Herman Wainggai
The man who never quit

Dr. Thom Wainggai

The father of "nonviolent struggles in West Papua"

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I want to devote a space in this chapter to talk briefly about the man I came to know as a mentor, uncle, and leader, Dr. Thom Wainggai. Mr. Thomas Wainggai was my beloved uncle. He was my father’s younger brother and a leader who gave his life for a course he believed would liberate his people from foreign occupation. Mr. Wainggai earned his doctoral studies at the University of Florida[1] in 1987 on a Fulbright scholarship, and when returned home, we referred to him as “Dr. Thom”. As a young man, Dr. Thom excelled academically and earned a scholarship to study Law in Japan at the Gonzaga university[2]. He immersed in the culture of the Japanese people and learned to speaker and write in Japanese as it was the language of the penal code of Japan. Even so, his desire to fight for our people of West Papua never departed him. After just after a year as a law student in Japanese, he made his way home. Didn’t did he know that the Indonesian government was waiting for him. He was arrested and incarcerated for his anti-Indonesian views and pro-Independence stance at home at abroad. He served six months in an Indonesian penitentiary as a political prior – the beginning of an out of control relationship that eventually brought about his demise a few years later. Mr. Wainggai returned to Japan where he completed his law degree, married, and returned with his family to his hometown of Jayapura. Back home in West Papua where, he continued to advocate for the rights of the indigenous people and blasted what he termed an “occupying power” – a term he used to describe the Indonesian military which has established itself for more than two decades, from Jayapura in the North to the South. 
In 1988, life turned a corner for the better as he was accepted to study in New York, United States of America. Thought Dr. Thom apparently made history as the first West Papuan to be accepted on a Fulbright Scholarship to study in one of the prestigious institutions in the United States of America; the University of New York at Albany[3]. Dr. Thom didn’t share much about his experience in New York, and I was just a little kid and didn’t know much about the places my uncle visited, but I remember him relishing the American culture and its founding principles that are the founding principles of modern democracy. It was his first experience in the land where “freedom of speech” is at the heart of the society and protected by the government. In other words, freedom of expressions and speech are guaranteed by the US constitution. There’s no doubt he envisioned a new West Papua where people be treated equally under the law[4]. In West Papua of Dr. Thom’s day, speaking out against the government was a crime, punishable by prolonged incarceration or even extermination. 
After his graduation in 1988, Dr. Thom was awarded a prestigious doctoral scholarship to continue his research on Public Administration at the University of Florida in Miami[5]. After the completion of his doctoral research, he graduated with his PhD. It was a huge achievement for a local Yapenese man who happened to live under an extremely repressive authoritarian government. What sets him apart also was the fact that he could have lived a comfortable life in the US, or somewhere where his qualifications would provide for him and his family better opportunities, but he chose to return to home. His returned to West Papua, I believe, may have been borne of a personal desire to fight for the liberation of his people, the culture, and the race that he loved dearly. 

Melanesianization of West Papua
I use the phrase “Melanesianization of West Papua” to describe Dr. Thom’s teachings on the true or real identity of indigenous people of West Papua. For more than five decades, Indonesian has destroyed the identity of our people through its television, education system, and political systems. For my generation, West Papuan cultural is nonexistent. We are taught to speak the Indonesian language and do things that merely glorify the Indonesian culture. Indigenous people only speak their native dialects at home. The education system is predominantly Indonesian; designed to completely transformed West Papuan society into an Indonesian society. Every text book is written in Indonesian language. Songs are sung in Indonesian language. Students are taught the historical significance of the Republic of Indonesia, in Indonesian language. They sing the Indonesian national anthem at school and during major events. This is the brainwashed education I grew up in; learning everything Indonesian while our cultural heritage and rich history are not allowed in schools. I speak Indonesian language fluently because I had to master it to get through school. For 25 years – since the formal occupation of West Papua until 1988 – indigenous people grew up to believe that they are Indonesians and that their tribal cultures aren’t important. They forgot who they are; those who wanted to maintain their tribal identity are often suppressed and, in schools, punished for doing so.
All that changed with Dr. Thom. It is my opinion that Dr. Thom was the first to revolutionize West Papuan psyche, or mentality. He was the first native scholar to study and revive the cultural and ethnic identity of the indigenous people of West Papua. He taught that West Papuans are a Melanesian[6] people stolen in 1969 by an ambitious Asian colonial power, Indonesia, with the help of an international body –
the United Nations[7]. He pointed out that West Papuans are Melanesians who shared no cultural values with Indonesians of the faraway Island of Java.
In 1988, Dr. Thom began his campaign to revive the identity of West Papuans, calling their home, West Melanesia, and its inhabitants, West Melanesians. He urged West Papuans to be proud of their Melanesian heritage and learn their culture and language as part of their cultural revival. He referred to the women of West Papua as “birds of paradise” and men as “Crown Pigeons” of West Melanesia. Over the years, the indigenous people of West Papuans began to embrace his teachings. They began to see themselves as part of the Melanesian people with no cultural ties to their colonial occupier, Indonesia.

Birth of the “Nonviolent Resistance”
Since 1969, the West Papuan struggle for “self-determination” was a struggle between nationalists who rejected Indonesian occupation, and the Indonesian military who hell-bent on destroying them. It is a battle fought in the jungles of West Papua and through social forums and through various networks and pockets of tribal groups within and outside of the West Papuan land.
In 1988, however, Dr. Wainggai returned from the United States and began a public campaign in the streets of West Papua. For the first time, the battle for the liberation of West Papua appeared in the streets of Jayapura and other cities. He invented the idea of “Nonviolent struggle.” It was the beginning of a new resistance – one that is based on passive aggression. The new movement centered on the popular teachings of world’s renowned “civil rights” leaders of the past century. He taught people to resist without physical fight; resist without arms or weapons. At this point, Dr. Thom was a popular respectable lecturer at the Cenderawasih University[8] in Jayapura, and he used his class-room to reinvent the Melanesian cultural identity. He taught many young West Papuans the passive aggressive nature of the new movement and urging them to exercise their rights to peaceful gathering and expression, which are protected by international laws[9].
One day, as I was visiting his home with my cousin – his son, Dr. Thom said something to us that never left me. He said that we may not have weapons as the Indonesian military and police, but we have “paper and pen.” He said, paper and pen are a powerful weapon because what you write would never be erased and would survive through the ages. As an academic, Dr. Thom believed in the power of “writing” and public discourse. He would express his views in writings and speaking, and for that reason, and many others, the Indonesian government feared him and were out to get him. He stressed the important of “nonviolent resistance” and pointed out places in the world where racial apathy existed for hundreds of years only to be defeated by peaceful people whose only weapon was “truth” and “humility.” In the US, he taught, blacks weren’t allowed to vote until a brave man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rose from the deep south – the heart of racial discrimination – and brought that practice to an end, using nothing but reasonable arguments. After his assassination, the US government finally gave African Americans their freedom and the right to vote for the first time[10]. The same can be said of Mahatma Gandhi of India who took on the entire British colonial government and eventually booted them out of India. “One thing these leaders had in common,” he said, “the desire to fight with nonresistant methods and not with modern weapons.
I was always curious about his ideologies although I was too young to fully grasped their meanings and implications in our struggle against Indonesian colonization of West Papua. I, however, knew that what he and my father often engaged in were far more important to our people than anything else. Over the years, I mastered his teachings and philosophes. A few years after his death, the little things I learned from him, I tried to magnify and made them my mine in my own struggle against the Indonesian government.

The Beginning of the end of Dr. Thom
That day at the Mandala stadium was the beginning of the end of Dr. Thom. Mandala Stadium is the largest stadium in Jayapura, overlooking the beautiful Jayapura bay[11]. We often gathered to watch Soccer games or major events at this huge stadium, but that day – September 1987, we gathered to watch the newly declared independent state of West Melanesia[12]. No matter how hard I tried to forget the horror of that that day, it kept coming back. This is how the events unfolded, as I recall.
Dr. Thom had run as a candidate for the governor of West Papua but lost to the incumbent[D1] . Some people theorized that voters outright rejected Dr. Thom’s teachings and political ambitions, but I have a different recollection of the events and the reason(s) he was rejected at the polls. Dr. Thom was a popular leader in the struggle against colonialization of West Papua. His candidacy was wildly attacked by opponents with smear tactics and propaganda. They portrayed his candidacy as a looming calamity for West Papua and its endless potentials. They made it sound as if the end of West Papua and its inhabitants if Dr. Thom won. The Indonesian government and personal interests within the indigenous communities across West Papua at the time worked tirelessly against Dr. Thom. At the polls, the fear and the smear apparently worked. He lost his bid for the governorship of West Papua, but not his wish to liberate his people – he chose a different route or avenue to take his fight to the occupying power, Indonesia.
To convince his people, Dr. Thom forged strong alliances within the Indigenous West Papuan communities who had seen their cultures and freedom eroded over the years. After learning the various rights and intricacies of International law and what the indigenous people were deprived of, these elders embraced Dr. Thom’s teachings and ambitions. His ideas were based on the following: first, Indonesia had illegally occupied West Papua under a sham referendum, as many West Papuans have come to understand over the years. Second: the London Agreement only gave Indonesia rights to occupy West Papua for 25 years and that the agreement lapsed in 1988, therefore, Indonesia must leave. Third: West Papuans are not Indonesian culturally, ethnically, racially, and linguistically. He argued that it was within the rights of West Papuans to have their own “free election” or self-determination referendum under the UN Charter and the London agreement which gave “colonized people” the right to vote for their own rights to determine their own future. These legal arguments were widely backed by international laws and conventions, but the Indonesian government was determined to undermined them to perpetuate its illegal occupation of West Papua.
On December 14, 1988, Dr. Thom and his loyalists declared the ultimate independence of West Melanesia and then things went to hell fast. I was standing there watching the event as it unfolded, and this is how things happened per the best of my knowledge.
Dr. Thom entered the stadium with approximately 70 of his loyal supporters – most of them tribal leaders who embraced Dr. Thom’s teachings and objectives. They gathered around the flag pole inside the stadium and together they hoisted a special flag Dr. Thom and his wife mended a few months back[13]. Together, they sang the “freedom song” of West Papua – FREEDOM,” the slowly raised West Melanesian flag. He also reminded the international community, especially the UN, the US government, the Australia and Britain government, and Indonesia about the Rome Agreement which was signed on December 30, 1962[14]. The Rome Agreement emphasized that the Indonesian government would only administrate West Papua for 25 years. The time-line began on May 1, 1963 and ended on May 1, 1988. Dr. Thom argued that the Indonesian administration of West Papua would end in May of that year and asked the UN to place the case of West Papuan self-determination back on the “independence agenda” of that 1988.
Seconds after Dr. Thom gave his political statement, tear-gas rained on the Mandala stadium as Indonesian police and armed military soldiers stormed the stadium – a scene that never escaped me to this day. They rounded up the unarmed shaken and scared indigenous West Papuans, and forced them to take their shirts off. I saw my uncle tried to negotiate with police officers, but was arrested along with his wife. They escorted them to military cars outside the stadium. They rest were taken inside a huge military vehicle and drove away. It happened so fast, we didn’t know what to make of it. They may have trained vigorously for such mission as it was executed in shear precision. I stood there crying as the military convoy disappeared from our sight carrying my beloved uncle to an undisclosed location. What happened that day, however, left a lasting impression on me.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Thom made was careful with what he did. He made sure that all what he did was peaceful protester and legitimate. He would inform the Indonesian government prior to peaceful protests. Prior to the event, he contacted the Indonesian government about his plan. In his letter, he explained “what the occasion was,” the “time of the even,” and the “purpose of the event.”[15] He taught that we didn’t need to ask for permission to protest, it is our land, and our god given right to protest and express our frustration. And as a member of the United Nations, Indonesia is obligated to respect the rights of peaceful protests. However, under the “Suharto regime,” Indonesia violated – without repercussions – this important UN Charter[16].

Darkness descended on Jayapura
On our way home, police and soldiers were all over the streets, surrounding the stadium. At home, we encountered police officers surrounding our house. Officers were in and out of our house and the entire compound. They demanded that all boats docked – no boat was allowed in the water. For us, fishermen families, not fishing means eminent starvation. We relied on fishing for our livelihood. The Indonesian authority also shuts down electricity in our neighborhood. Police officers patrolled around our settlements to enforce evening curfew, and a Navy boat was sent to our area to blow up any boat that defied the government order. Helicopters routinely flew over our settlements. It was total darkness – a complete shutdown. We believed that they didn’t want any information or documents from the arrest smuggled into Papua New Guinea. In fact, Dr. Thom had a wonderful friend, Catholic priest at Vanimo, and he would have published anything brought to him by Dr. Thom’s supporters. The Indonesian intel network reacted quickly and shuts everything down!
It is important to note that during that Suharto regime, people who advocated for the independence of West Papua were brutally suppressed, harassed, arrested, and selected individuals were executed. Raising of the West Papua flag, as I explained before, was a serious crime. After his fall, though freedom is not yet achieved, people can wear T-shirts or so with West Papuan flag on it. So, during that time, indigenous West Papuans realized that the Indonesian government had declared war on them and support for Dr. Thom’s teachings grew dramatically. People went out and protest, riots broke out and Jayapura descended into chaos. For me and my family, it was hell!

Secret prison
The Indonesian government didn’t tell us where Dr. Thom was being held. I remember that night clearly; it seems like yesterday. My father and I and a relative of ours took a cab and visited every single prison we know in Jayapura for his whereabouts. We asked every prison official we came across for information about Dr. Thom’s whereabouts, but we didn’t get any answer. My father was overcome by the thoughts that his brother may be kept in a secluded area and may have been tortured relentlessly. “He must be somewhere in this city,” my fathered assured me. At midnight, we gave up and went home. We’d lost all hopes and the prospect of not seeing my uncle broke my heart. My father lowered his head as we got home – it was one of the saddest days for our family, but it wasn’t the last. The next day, one of our relatives in the military, told us that Dr. Thom was being kept in a secret government prison within the walls of the Waena military base[17]. We then realized the magnitude of what my uncle was going through. He wasn’t being held in a police station as customary of police arrests; he was being held in a military base secret prison designed for maximum security of important individuals. Knowing where he was kept was one thing, visiting him was quite another. We arrived at Waena prison and the guards told us, “yes, he’s here but you cannot see him at this point!” It was extremely disappointed, but thrilled to know he was.
Our family and his supporters were not able to visit him until weeks later. Our visits were mostly heartbroken. The way they treated my uncle and their behavior when we visited were grossly inhumane – they treated us as if we were not human beings. Their visitation requirements were highly restrictive and severely choreographed to portray the government’s power. For instance, a single visit to see Dr. Thom lasts only an hour. Food were inspected with guard’s bayonet as if we were bringing food for a dog. Worst, every communication between Dr. Thom and visitors must be done in Indonesian language, which affected my aunt – Dr. Thom’s youngest sister who only spoke Ambai language[18].
Our first visit was a nightmare. Dr. Thom had not eaten anything since day and for apparent for of being poisoned by the Indonesian government. He was on hunger strike for a few days. My father and I decided to take him food when we had the chance. At Waena prison, rude guards came out with automatic rifles and escorted us to waiting room. We were surrounded by menacing armed-guards. They raised their guns on us and told us to strip down to our underwear. Imagine the anguish we felt that day. We had no choice but to do what they told us to do – we dropped our pants and took off our shirts. They searched us and ordered us to wait on the side and put the food we brought on the counter, and then I saw one of the officers walked over to inspect it. He raised his rifle, which had a bayonet screwed to the barrel of his gun and use that bayonet to inspect the food. He stabbed through the ball and then used the tip of the bayonet to inspect the content of the bowl. A few minutes later, Dr. Thom came out. He appeared fragile and frail but high in spirit. We embraced him and had a little chat with him before we were ordered to live. “Time up! Get your stuff and get out of here!” yelled one of the guards. Another time, I accompanied my aunt – Dr. Thom’s youngest sister. She had not seen her brother for months, so I felt it was appropriate to take her for a visit. We entered the prison and after going through the normal inspection procedures, we met uncle Dr. Thom, in the waiting area. They hugged and started talking when a guard interrupted – “Hey, you must speak Indonesian language, woman!” the guard sneered. I said gently, “Sir, my aunt doesn’t speak Indonesia as she never went to school to learn Indonesian.” The guard exploded again, “I don’t care!” This time my aunt was shocked and asked me what was going on. “Hey old lady, you didn’t see that sign that says every communication here must be done in Indonesian language?” asked the guard. I whispered to my aunt what was going on and the guard, again, interrupted us; annoyed apparently by our language, “Your visit is over, get out of here now!” My aunt said goodbye to him – the last time she saw her brother alive.
The whole experience was humiliating and painful, but it was also inspirational. His determination gave me courage. At 15 years of age, I said to myself that I am going to fight his fight. Whatever desire I had in becoming a political activist, only solidified by those visits. I kept telling myself, “I’ll make his struggle mine!” Today I’m have been fighting that battle ever since.

TRIAL - First day: The Scholar vs. the Indonesian government
Prior to his trial, the Indonesian government transferred Dr. Thom from Waena military prison to Abepura prison – a government run penitentiary just outside of Jayapura city. The Indonesian government apparently underestimated the love West Papuans had for their leader. Families, individuals – students and ordinary citizens, tribal leaders etc., visited Dr. Thom every day. Abepura prison was jam-packed every day, morning to evening, with people showing up to pay tribute to their leader and hero. When they found out the exact day of Dr. Thom’s trial, they showed up at the location of the trial. The number people showing up at the trial quadrupled; the largest court audience ever in West Papuan history, in my humble opinion. Schools closed, workers, and every West Papuan – young and old, descended on the courthouse. I was there witnessing the showdown between West Papuan scholar and the government prosecutors who, regardless of their incompetence, knew their case was a guaranteed victory because the way the system works. For the Suharto regime, victor in court was always guaranteed. Dictators do dictate the outcomes of political cases.
The day of the trial was an awakening of the sleeping giant – the West Papuan population. They traveled far – by boats and cars, by foot and bicycle, at road blocks, they got off and walk. Some even walked two or three hours to reach Abepura prison to witness the hearing of Dr. Thom Wainggai trial. On the roads, the sound of “Onward Christian Soldiers Marching as to War” filled the air as indigenous West Papuans of all stripes, marched to the court house in Jayapura. Police attempt to stop them by setting up checkpoints, but everyone jumped off and walked toward the courthouse. My cousin and I joined the crowd heading to the court house that very morning and we witness the number of people that walked long distance to witness Dr. Thom’s trial. It was huge. The place was filled to the max and so the Indonesian police put two loud-speakers on the roof the building. Every single inch of soil around the court building was also filled. Some climbed nearby trees, others saw on the side of the hill not far from courthouse. They listened to every single word Dr. Thom said in court. They would cheer when he made a good argument, growled when prosecutors voice came on the speakers. Toward the end of the first day, the courthouse staff decided to play games with the audio. To minimize the noise outside, they often lowered the volume when Dr. Thom responded or answered a question. The crowd outside exploded with boos and chants.
As time wore off, we realized that uncle Dr. Thom faced nine Judges. And by Indonesian law, Dr. Thom couldn’t represent himself. The Cenderawasih university also refused to take up the legal fight on his behalf[19]. He was, however, assigned a lawyer – an Indonesian lawyer named Bambang. He knew Dr. Thom well and was thrilled to represent him in court. He fought vehemently for his client’s right to the very end. He, in my opinion, threw everything he knew on the table and it was up to the court to decide. Dr. Thom could have been given a better attorney than this guy, but he was facing the might of the Indonesian government, represented by these 9 judges. He was a lawyer through and through, who saw everything through the eyes of the law and not who Dr. Thom was nor his profession as a political activist. Edison Waromi,[20] who also worked with me as a political activist, was also a young lawyer working together with the leading attorney.
The trial in general was an eye-opening education experience for many West Papuans who never heard the legal arguments puts forward by Dr. Thom’s legal team. For instance, the indigenous supporters that day never heard about the New York Agreement[21], Rome Agreement[22], South Pacific Commission – Canberra Agreement, February 1947[23] etc. until that day. Dr. Thom’s legal team hammered away the flawed execution of the NYA and the sham election known as the Act of Free Choice,[24] and challenged the authenticity of the Indonesian occupation of West Papua. The crowd heard for the first time how the Indonesian government manipulated the sham referendum of 1969 by replacing ‘plebiscite vote’ – one man[25], one vote, with “Musyawarah” – representative election where a few voters represented an entire population[26].
During the hearing, one of the judges asked Dr. Thom – “What’s your citizenship?” Dr. Thom responded, “I’m a temporary citizen of Indonesia, I am a Melanesian!” His answer sent the crowd outside the court house wild. They were inspired by what they heard and were chanting – “Papua Merdeka!”[27] Others shouted, “Hallelujah, Amen, Amen!”
At the end of each hearing, Dr. Thom exited the court house, he would raise his fist in the air and waved the “V” sign, which stands for victory, to his people and they would erupt in chorus of “Papua Merdeka.” The crowd just adored him and wanted to touch or embrace him, but police would drag him away, put him in the car and drive away.

Final day
In all, the prosecution team had taken my uncle to the toolshed with about forty hearings. They were indeed attempting to destroy him and his family and they succeeded. I don’t remember every single argument and counter argument during these hearings, but I do remember the final day – the “judgement day.” The courts met again to determine the fate of Dr. Thom whether he would be released or served prison time. That day, Jayapura stopped every.
That day was filled with so much expectations and sadness. Crowd size also reduced to only his loyal supporters. Every corner of Jayapura was filled with military and police armed officers patrolling the city. The streets transformed into green and brown colors; the color of the Indonesian military and police. Again, loyal supporters gathered at the court house, which was at this point surrounded by armed police officers and military officers. It was the day Dr. Thom was to appear to hear that judgement, the people gathered with tremendous expectation.

The verdict
Suddenly, the speakers on the roof of the house came alive. The judge ordered Dr. Thom to rise as the court reads out his judgement. There was total silence outside as they tried to hear the verdict.

“Dr. Thomas Wainggai, on behalf of the Indonesian government, you are hereby sentence to life imprisonment!”

The crowd went mad and there was quite a scene in the courtroom from what we’d heard. Dr. Thom’s lawyer sprung to his knees and quickly protested the judgement, calling it unfair and disproportional. He argued that the man posed no threat to society and that he only preached what he believed in and most of his activities were peaceful. He pleaded for reduced sentence. The judges presiding the judgement, after listening attentively to the motion against the verdict from Dr. Thom’s attorney, they adjourned the hearing till the following week. After a week, the court resumed and this time, the Judges ruled:

“Dr. Thom, on behalf of the Indonesian government and by evidence presented to the court, you are hereby found guilty of “subversion” and will serve 20 years in prison.”[28]

The reaction from the crowd outside and around me was a mixture of jubilation and sadness. Dr. Thom apparently beats the system, but the punishment was somewhat excessive. A 20-year prison term was apparently a very long prison-term for an already ailing man. The prospect of him getting out of prison to live a normal life was simply unrealistic at the time. His loyal supporters saw him as the “Nelson Mandela” of West Papua. He was fighting the same battle Nelson Mandela fought!
For her part, the Indonesian government sentenced Mrs. Wainggai to 8 years in prison. It was her who mended the new West Papuan flag. Both served time in separate prisons.

The end of Dr. Thom – Execution by poison
Sometimes in early 1991, about three years after he arrest at the Mandala stadium, the Indonesian government abruptly, without explanation to the Wainggai family, transferred Dr. Thom and his wife to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. He was held at Cipinang government prison[29] where many political prisoners, such as the current prime minister of East Timor, H.E. Guzmao,[30] were held. The decision to transfer Dr. Thom was catastrophic, and led us to believe that it was a calculated plan to execute him.
In March of 1996, news of the tragic death of our beloved uncle, Dr. Thom reached us. He had passed away hundreds of miles away from our home, in Jakarta. It was a news we never anticipated, but we were braced for it because of his sudden transfer to Jakarta. It was virtually impossible to visit him on a regular basis. The distance from Jayapura to Jakarta by plane is approximately 9 hours. However, it takes a week to travel to Jakarta from Jayapura. When we connected the dots, we realized that the Suharto regime wanted to move Dr. Thom to the capital city for a specific purpose, execution. Our suspicion was confirmed by a set of circumstances leading up to his death. They pointed to a systematic plan to exterminate the leader of the “nonviolent movement’s” founding father.
Here’s what we knew at the time. Dr. Thom was sentenced to 20 years behind bars. He served only three years before his sudden transfer to Cipinang penitentiary in Jakarta in 1991. He was at Cipinang for merely only five years before his death. While in prison, my father met him two times during those years, and in both times, he’d told my father – his elder brother – about his feelings. We also found out that Dr. Thom was wearied of being poisoned and refused any government’s doctor, he was however examined – from time to time – by a Red Cross doctor. As careful as he was, he was unable to protect himself from an evil regime hell-bent on destroying him.
After his death, we received his bag from prison. Inside his bad were clothes and other stuff he had while in prison. My father went through his stuff when a piece apparently written by him some time prior to his death. In it, he described to his doctor how he felt. Everything he described pointed to “poison” something he always tried to avoid. Couple with other issues,
we firmly believe our uncle was murdered by a paranoid regime in an attempt to silence the pro-Independence movement of West Papua because it was Dr. Thom that brought to West Papua the concept of “Peaceful Protest” and the rights of West Papua to express their views.

The government deception
The circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. Thom and the subsequent actions of the Indonesian government all pointed to murder in “cold-blood.” Our beloved uncle, Dr. Thom, had been in Jakarta for more than 5 years and it was basically hard for us to visit him daily as we did when he was at Waena prison. So, some time in 1996, my father boarded a ship to Jakarta. It was a weeklong boat trip that took him through various islands before reaching Jakarta. He was going there to visit his brother, while the rest of the family remained in Jayapura.
Life seemed normal until we were visited by Indonesian officers we believed to be “intelligence officers.” A week had passed since my father left for Jakarta, a knock on the door changed everything. I was at home with my mother that day. I opened the door cautiously and saw two men we I assumed to be Indonesian officers; clean cut, military style posture. “Can we come in?” they asked politely, I said “no, our dad is not here.” One of the officers asked for my mom. I called out to her and she appeared beside me. The officers told us that our father – Zadrack Wainggai – had passed away in Jakarta and that they were sent to notify us. We were shocked! They made an about face and walked away. Mom and I started crying and we gathered by table and prayed for comfort and then mother started calling people to confirm the news. She finally reached a relative of ours in Jakarta who told her that our father was in good health and that he was on the boat heading back to Jayapura. We were thrilled to know that our dad was still alive, but didn’t know what to do the Indonesian government’s fake news. What were they trying to tell us? Why did they find it okay to tell a lie to our family? We were left in the dark until the truth came out.
After a week of uneasiness and fear, our father arrived from Jakarta. It was a long trip but one that, in retrospect, worth everything in the world. And it was as if it was a divine providence that he went to see his brother right before he died. A few days after my dad arrived from Jakarta, the Indonesian government announced that our uncle Dr. Thom had died in prison. They informed us Dr. Thom died of natural cause. Every single paper in Jayapura and Jakarta published the sudden death of our uncle in stunning headlines, but there was one that stuck out – “The Nelson Mandela of West Papua Passed away at Cipinang prison”. The title was not only fitted, it was a final acknowledge of Dr. Thom’s innocence and, as with Dr. Mandela, he’d served time for what believed in.
The deception continues in Jakarta and Jayapura. Shortly after Dr. Thom’s death, the Indonesian government hid his body instead of performing “autopsy” to determine the cause of his death. In Jakarta, West Papuan students and political activists – those who came to revere Dr. Thom over the years – spent hours looking for his body. At the hospital, they demanded to see Dr. Thom’s body, but the Indonesian government refused to talk to them. These frustrated students turned on the hospital building, destroying windows and thrashing the place. They were completely left in the dark and were extremely furious. Back in Jayapura, we were trying to find out what really happened to our beloved uncle, but we were unable to get any honest answer from the Indonesian government in Jakarta and Jayapura. They told us one lie after another to bury the truth about Dr. Thom’s death. Adding insult to injury, the Indonesian government informed us of their desire to bury our uncle in a military cemetery in Jakarta. This Indonesian plan infuriated my father, our local tribal leaders, and church leaders. They came together and discussed and then I wrote a letter to the Indonesian government. Our tribal and church leaders signed it and we sent it to Jakarta. We petitioned the Indonesian government to have Dr. Thom’s body repatriated to Jayapura, his home. After days of lobbying and negotiation, the Indonesian government finally gave in and granted our request to bring our uncle home. But the Indonesian government had one final deception left. The date was set and West Papuans began arriving from the fringes of Jayapura, highlanders, coastal people arrived in mass to pay tribute to their fallen hero. The airport was packed with indigenous people. Just before noon, the plane touched down in Jayapura airport. The door opened and a casket was brought to terminal. Families, relatives, friends, and fellow West Papuans gathered around the casket to pay their respect. When they removed the top of the casket, it was an empty – there was nothing inside. Some West Papuans saw the real casket being removed from the back of the plane and placed in a car. Angry West Papuans rushed to intercept the car, but they sped away. We were absolutely devastated. Even in at his funeral, the Indonesian government showed little respect for our people; they treated us like people without value. They’d murdered my uncle, not they played us like that. It was terrible. Angry West Papuans took to the streets and protested; destroying properties and shouting slogans against the Indonesian government. It was chaotic.
A few hours later, the Indonesian government brought the body to our house. The laid the casket down and told us the body would be buried in less than an hour. We were surprised because they acted as if they owned the body, which was somewhat bizarre, come to think of it. Since his incarceration in 1989, this was our opportunity to spend time with his body, yet we were told that the body “must be buried” immediately. There was no autopsy to determine the cause of his death, yet the Indonesian government insisted on burying him as if they were trying to hide something. In the afternoon of 1996, we took his body to a private cemetery and bury him there. That was the end of our hero; a man revered by West Papuans from the time his left for Japan to the day of his incarceration. Of all the things he could have done with his vast educational experience, he chose to die for his people. And for the Indonesian government, certainly executing West Papuan political leader – the founder of the “Nonviolent Struggle” in West Papua – did little to deter his people. Shortly after that, West Papua descended into total chaos as supporters rioted for days; destroying pretty much most of the businesses in downtown Jayapura. And for us ‘Nonviolent resistants’, we began to organize protest and urged everyone to join. Then words reached our family that I was on the Indonesian target. I had no choice but to leave for PNG. I had so much to do for the West Papuan struggles and I refused to let Indonesia silenced me like they did my uncle. I had to escape.



[1] University of Florida.
[2] Gonzaga University, Japan.
[3] University of New York at Albany
[4] Crimes against President of Indonesia.
[5] University of Florida at Miami.
[6] Melanesian is a term coined by a European to refer to the dark-skinned people of the Pacific.
[7] UN - NYA
[8] Cenderawasih University.
[9] Conventions on Human Rights
[10] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
[11] Mandala Stadium – seated more than 30,000 people, recently upgraded to 50,000. Overlooking Jayapura bay.
[12] West Melanesia – a name Dr. Thom Wainggai invented to describe West Papua of the Indigenous people as part of the Melanesian family.
[13] Note: The flag is one of two flags recognized by indigenous West Papuans. The Morning Star flag – the original, and the second was created by Dr. Thom Wainggai. The new flag consisted of three horizontal blocks – black, white and red and fourteen stars. Meanings – black color represents the black skin of West Papua. Red represents the “resilience and bravery” of the West Papuan people and the blood that spilled over the years. White stands for “pure heart” of the West Papuan people and the purity of the struggle against Indonesia. The green color stands for the rich resources of West Papua. The 14 stars symbolize the major cities of West Papua. The national motto of the newly created flag is – “The Lord is my Shepard.”
[14] Rome government -
[15] This is a practice we “nonviolent resistant” leaders continue do use in our public protests. The purpose, in my own understanding of the strategy, was to let the Indonesian government know our planned protests, time and venue. We wanted to show the Indonesian government that we didn’t hide anything. This would not give the Indonesian government the impression that we were somehow working to overthrow the Indonesian government, which is the heart of every legal charge against our people – subversion.
[16]
[17] Waena military base.
[18] Ambai language.
[19] Asia Watch – report.
[20] Edison Waromi – current president of the Federal Republic of West Papua.
[21]
[22]
[23] The South Pacific Commission
[24] Act of Free Choice – the election of 1969 where a few voters were coerced to vote in favor of West Papua becoming part of Indonesia.
[25]
[26] Musyawarah – Indonesian version of representative election, where a few people represent an entire population.
[27] Papua Merdeka – Free West Papua
[28] Mrs. Wainggai (his Japanese wife) was sentenced to 8 years in prison for her part in mending the Flag of the Independent State of West Melanesia. Dr. Thom served 20 years in prison.
[29] Cipinang prison is own by the government: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cipinang_Penitentiary_Institution
[30] Guzmao was imprisoned in a different room next to Dr. Thom’s prison cell. He was the freedom fighter of East Timor. He was captured and held at Cipinang prison until East Timor became independent.
 [D1]Name of the incumbent and the year of the election.